KINGSTON — Through corner kicks, deep throws and a bevy of other methods, Valley West was highly successful at getting the ball into the box during Saturday’s home game against Hazleton Area.
Getting it into the box is once thing. Getting it across the goal line is another.
Hazleton Area’s backline and goaltender William Smith stood firm all afternoon, buying time for the Cougar offense to covert on two timely chances as Hazleton Area came away with a key Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 win, 2-0.
“Offense, we were strong; defense we were strong,” Hazleton Area coach Ryan Scarcella said after his team improved to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in the division. “They got through us but our keeper, (Smith), he got a lot of saves and definitely helped us out today.”
Smith made 17 saves, none bigger than one on a penalty kick with his team holding a 1-0 lead midway through the second half. Smith stared down Valley West’s Landon Serbin and dove to his right to stop Serbin’s low line drive.
It was a microcosm of the entire afternoon, as the Spartans had numerous chances in front of the Cougars goal but couldn’t convert.
“We played slow. We need to play with more sense of urgency and get the ball off our foot,” Valley West coach Charlie Whited said. “Dribble, dribble, dribble, lose the ball. Can’t keep happening. We made a couple moves late in the game, guys were moving the ball faster and we got a little pressure on them.
“Got to capitalize on your opportunities, too. First half, right in front of the net. Like a pinball machine in there, bing, bing, bing, bing, all over the place.”
“Great work from our keeper, very great work from our keeper and our defense. They did their jobs,” Hazleton Area’s Gabe Fabian said. “Valley West had a couple chances they didn’t capitalize on. We got our chances and we took them.”
While it didn’t have as many scoring chances as Valley West (3-2-1, 2-2-1), Hazleton Area made the ones it did get count. Fabian’s speed was a big reason — along with great passing from the midfield.
With the game still scoreless 14 minutes into the second half, Hazleton Area’s Joseph Rosero lofted a pass to Fabian, who took off on a run past the Valley West defense. He knocked it into the net for the afternoon’s first goal.
“Me and Fabian practice all the time,” Rosero said. “Me and him, we‘ve known each other for so long. I just pass it to him and he does what he does. Natural connection between me and him.”
Roughly 12 minutes later, the scene nearly repeated itself with Mike Mehalschick getting the ball out of the Cougars’ defensive end and sending a deep pass to Fabian, who again got past the Valley West defense.
“Great through balls from Joey and Mikey,” Fabian said. “Then, once I’m one-on-one with the keeper, nine times out of 10 I’m winning that situation.”
The win was a big one for the Cougars in their efforts to keep pace in the division.
“We went out strong,” Scarcella said. “We knew they were going to be a good team, second place in the Wyoming Valley Conference. We definitely came out strong and got the first goal. They went down a little, but we got the second one. That was it.”
Fabian said Saturday’s effort stemmed from the work the team put in before the season.
“A lot of offseason work,” he said. “We go into every season with a lot of conditioning, physical fitness, speed training. We’re trying to be one step ahead. We’re not trying to be the same Hazleton from years before. We’re really trying to make a statement this year.”
SECOND HALF: Gabe Fabian (HAZ) from Joseph Rosero, 26:03; Fabian (HAZ) from…